Air pollution and natural barriers – Better Place project

Better Place Project Manager, Adele Adams, shares what the programme is doing to help reduce air pollution around walking routes leading to local schools in Bradford.

Adele Adams

Better Start Bradford’s Better Place project is responsible for identifying and overseeing improvements to local parks and outdoor spaces with the aim of providing a healthier and happier environment for babies, young children and families. The project also looks at and implements ways to reduce exposure to harmful traffic fumes for pregnant women and small children.

Much of Bradford’s pollution comes from road traffic and places near busy roads generally experience higher levels of pollution. By the end of Spring 2022, a clean air zone will be incorporated in the most polluted areas of Bradford. Better Start Bradford’s wards of Bowling and Barkerend, Bradford Moor and Little Horton all fall within the targeted clean air zone.

Air pollution takes the form of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and other gases such as ozone and benzene alongside particulate matter that is too small to be filtered out by our noses. We think of the pollution coming from the exhausts, but friction from tyres and brake pads also release small particles that are released into the environment and, for example, make their way into small children’s airways as they make their way to nursery or school.

Air pollution affects children most severely and its effects continue all their lives because they have smaller lungs, can be affected by a smaller dosage, breathe twice as fast as adults and their physical defenses and immunities are not fully developed.

By involving local families, local community groups and schools in everything that we do, we are increasing public awareness of air quality issues, which can influence behavioural change such as reducing vehicular usage by encouraging walking, switching engines off while parked up, increasing use of public transport, encouraging the purchase of vehicles with cleaner emissions (such as hybrid and electric) and planting trees and other natural barriers.

We have been working with many local schools to mitigate air pollution in their early year’s settings. We have provided five schools with air pollution reports, which advise on measures the schools could take to lessen the impact of pollution. We have planted trees and boundary hedges to trap pollution, moved waiting areas away from the road, and moved play areas as far away from roads as possible as the concentration of pollution declines the further away you are from a road.

We have planted over 2500 trees so far across the Better Start Bradford area and have received additional funding from Public Health and Bradford Council to plant trees down one of the busiest highly populated roads leading into Bradford city centre. We have planted 135 large trees so far with that funding.

Trees improve air quality in various ways. Polluted particles tend to settle on leaves and certain gases, including nitrous dioxide are absorbed by leaves, filtering the air and reducing pollution levels. Trees also release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. Planting trees of different heights and shapes creates more air turbulence which increases the amount of surface area for particulates to be absorbed.

Evergreen planting is favoured for barriers against air pollution as they have leaves all year round and planting hedges at the roadside at exhaust level is more effective at trapping particles.

The following trees and shrubs that Better Place have been planting have been shown to absorb and store carbon dioxide, trap particles, provide exceptional shade, reduce noise, are tolerant to atmospheric pollution and can be resistant to disease:

  • Common ash
  • Little leaf linden
  • Oak (White Oak, Willow Oak, Laurel Oak and Scarlet Oak)
  • London Plane
  • Dogwood
  • Thuja
  • Birch
  • Ivy – pre-grown green ivy screens are perfect for school boundaries as they instantly provide traffic level absorption and quickly attaches itself to things, such as fences, to create more protection.

Using nature-based solutions to alleviate the air pollution crisis is not the complete solution but, in conjunction with other approaches, it can provide multiple benefits including reducing the greenhouse and acid rain effect through carbon dioxide absorption, providing shade, improving water quality and reducing the risk of flooding.

We are just one piece in a very large jigsaw and there are wider initiatives and campaigns happening such as Bradford’s Clean Air Zone, A Tree for Every Child, School Streets: Active Travel schemes, the implementation of temporary no traffic zones in front of schools at drop off and pick up, plus much more.

Better Start Bradford are actively involved in all these initiatives through its Better Place project, and through all the work being undertaken we are adding to the research evidence around greening the environment in Bradford, and beyond. The Better Place research is about showing that improving air quality, providing good quality and appropriate green spaces and access to the local outdoor offer for our children leads to improved health.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is the ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham, and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language, and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. A Better Start is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier.

The National Children’s Bureau is designing and delivering an ambitious programme of shared learning and development support for A Better Start, working within, across and beyond the five partnership areas. The programme is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund using funds raised by National Lottery players.

Our aim is to amplify the impact of A Better Start by:

  • Embedding a culture of learning within and between the partnerships.
  • Harnessing the best available evidence about what works in improving outcomes for children.
  • Sharing the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

Sign-up to join our mailing list.